Back to School: How Trump Undermined Education in Rural America

It’s August, and in any other year parents would be picking up pencils, folders, and maybe a spiffy new backpack in preparation for their children to be heading back to school. COVID-19 has thrown a serious wrench in our educational gears, and now parents, teachers, and administrators are facing the daunting task of figuring out when — and how — to reopen safely.

Nowhere is the uncertainty around reopening and the lack of resources to do it right more apparent than in our rural schools. President Trump and his top education administrator Betsy DeVos have pushed for “education freedom” since his first day in office, limiting resources to public education in rural school systems and putting them at a disadvantage long before the pandemic came along.

“Our rural communities are knit together by their public schools,” says Pastor Charles Johnson, head of the public education advocacy group Pastors for Texas Children. “It’s why they tend to oppose privatization, no matter who is pushing it.”

Below are the Trump administration’s 10 worst education policy decisions for American students.

  1. DeVos funds private and charter schools at the expense of public education.

By depriving public schools of funds so richer students can attend private or religious schools, DeVos promotes an elitist vision of American education: giving the rich more education opportunities while working-class students are left to fend for themselves. (Ross Barkan, The Guardian, 06/14/19).

2. White House prioritizes re-opening schools over science.

Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, said that “the science should not stand in the way of [fully re-opening schools].” The Trump administration is openly denying science and risking the health of American children to advance its political goals. (Allan Smith, NBC, 07/16/20)

3. DeVos has illegally seized tax refunds and refused to honor student loan forgiveness.

Over-and-over again, DeVos has failed to comply with the rule of law, illegally seizing the tax refunds of Massachusetts borrowers and illicitly seizing the debts of 7,200 former Corinthian Colleges students. She has used any excuse, like paperwork being filed in the wrong order, to deny student loan forgiveness to otherwise qualified borrowers. (Alexis Goldstein, NBC, 07/16/20)

4. Trump’s administration tried to slash education funding for rural schools.

Under Trump’s plan, more than 800 schools would have lost thousands of dollars from the Rural and Low-Income School Program due to a change in how districts report poverty numbers. This administration clearly does not value the education of rural Americans. (Erica L. Green, The New York Times, 02/28/20)

5. Trump threatens to withhold funding for schools that do not re-open.

Trump tweeted he “may cut off funding if [schools do] not open!” Not only is he threatening to withhold essential funding for schools that count on it, but he is also comparing the U.S. to countries with substantially fewer COVID-19 cases. (By Christina Wilkie, CNBC, 07/08/20)

6. Senate Republicans have failed to improve broadband access, putting rural communities at risk.

Around 42 million Americans lack access to broadband internet, which presents immense issues for remote learning. However, Mitch McConnell called an act aiming to expand the access to reliable and high-speed internet “absurd,” and denied essential funding to the communities that needed it most. (Isabelle Lee, Daily Yonder, 07/14/20)

7. DeVos falsely claimed that children are “stoppers” of the virus.

As a pitch to re-open schools, DeVos made this statement without any evidence or proof to back it up. COVID-19 cases in children have increased 90% in the last four weeks. She is a liar and a puppet of the administration. (Libby Cathey, ABC News, 07/24/20)

8. The Federal Government neglects to fund rural education and update collapsing infrastructure.

The federal government has neglected to fund rural education: only 1% of rural school funding comes from the federal government. This lack of support for rural schools contributes to stark inequalities between rural schoolchildren and their metro-area peers. (Whitney Kimball Coe and Mary Sketch, Daily Yonder, 08/06/2020)

9. DeVos funneled emergency education funding in states hit hard by COVID-19 to private schools

Congress provided emergency funding to meet the educational needs of states hardest hit by COVID-19, but instead of allowing those funds to pass to the public school system, DeVos siphoned off the money and turned them into “microgrants” for private schools. She also released guidance that would disadvantage public schools in favor of wealthy private schools. (Amanda Menas, Education Votes, 05/08/2020)

10. VP Pence urges schools to open without presenting safety precautions.

In a visit to North Carolina, Pence said “coronavirus poses [minimal risk to] healthy children,” completely ignoring the possibility of transmitting the virus to parents or elderly relatives. In addition, this stance puts children with pre-existing health conditions at extreme risk. (Bryan Anderson, ABC News, 07/29/20)